Different Lived Experiences Shape Views of Haverhill Mayoral Candidates at First Forum

Haverhill mayoral candidates, top row, from left, George Eleftheriou, City Councilor Melinda E. Barrett and retired Patrolman Guy E. Cooper. Bottom, from left, School Committee member Scott W. Wood Jr. and Debra M. Campanile. (Jay Saulnier photograph for WHAV News.)

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Haverhill residents got their first opportunity last night to meet and hear from several of the candidates for the upcoming mayoral election.

Five of the six declared candidates took part in a nearly two-hour Haverhill Mayoral Candidates Forum sponsored by the Greater Haverhill Clergy Association. Their resumes are significantly diverse and, not surprisingly, their answers very often reflected their backgrounds. For example, asked what they believed are the most pressing challenges facing Haverhill at this time, City Councilor Melinda E. Barrett mentioned a number of the issues which have been addressed by the Council in the last several months.

“We have problems with our education system that we have to address. We have problems with our infrastructure. We have an opioid crisis,” she explained.

Recently retired Patrolman Guy E. Cooper answered the biggest problems are in the streets. “Some of the most pressing things that I’ve seen in the city are homelessness. We have a lot of homeless people. I believe that the city can do a lot better,” he said.

Cooper also pointed to mental health issues and a lack of downtown parking.

Responding to a question asked by an audience member regarding how, as mayor, she would handle racism in schools and its resultant trauma, Debra Campanile, a former U.S. Treasury customer service manager, said it’s all about listening and talking to each other.

“Open communication. We have to find out exactly what is going on, maybe setup focus groups. I’m big with that,” she told the audience gathered Armenian Apostolic Church at Hye Pointe in Haverhill.

Asked the same question, School Committee member Scott W. Wood Jr. said the issue must be addressed in school curriculum.

“I think you need to build those issues of bias into your curriculum. You need to make sure that each school has adjustment counselors available when those needs arise,” he explained.

Unique answers came from George Eleftheriou, a small business owner and inventor who suggested moving the downtown bus station next to the train station in order to provide more parking downtown. In addition, asked about how the city could find the money needed to clean up the Merrimack River Eleftheriou floated an idea that was a bit out of the box.

“How do you tell people we are going to fix something that they don’t even use? I have an ambitious plan to unite all of the communities with a regatta,” he said.

Not in attendance at the forum was former Assistant Harbormaster Timothy Slavit.

That forum was divided into two parts, beginning with prepared questions candidates received in advance. The second portion of the forum involved impromptu questions from members of the public.

Candidates have until Friday, July 21 to take out nomination papers and until the following Tuesday, July 25 to return them with enough valid signatures.

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